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Democratic Republic of CONGO - INTERVIEW 
Interview with Prof. Lubunga Pene Shako
Chief Executive Officer of REGIDESO


Summit Communications : Managing drinking water distibution to the population is an important task. Could you tell us the course that brought you to the position of Chief Executive Officer of REGIDESO ?

Pof. Lubunga, REGIDESO : I am a graduate in civil ingeneering, specialized in mecanics from the University of Kinshasa. Then, I went for further studies in Belgium, at the end of which I became professor in the polytechnics school, at the University of Kinshasa. I joined REGIDESO in 1977 in the training department. Then, I was promoted to the position of the Training Manager, Research Manager; Human Resources Manager for a about ten years, finally; I was appointed as a Chief Executve Officer in 2001 before being an advisor.

Summit Communications : Would you briefly tell us the story of REGIDESO ?

Prof. Lubunga, REGIDESO : REGIDESO was founded in 1939 and was in charge of water and electricity production and distribution. In 1960, right after the independence; the government decided to hand the responsability of producing and distributing electricity to the State Company of Electricity (SNEL) and on the other hand; REGIDESO has been merely in charge of treating, supplying and commercializing drinking water within urban areas. Generally speaking, the growth was relatively slow because the urban areas were few before the independence. The rural exodus phenomenon, after the independence contributed to a fast urbanization, enhancing therefore activities of REGIDESO.
Moreover, The International Community decreed the 80's as the international decade of Water and cleaning-up, this brought in lots of foreign assistance from multilateral and bilateral partners. This assistance helped quick progress : two or three harnessing, treating and distributing water centers had been being opened each year, so that we reached 94 operating centres. REGIDESO remained a state-owned company ever since.

Summit Communications : REGIDESO has experienced a great past mainly in the 80's. What would you say about its last five years ?

Prof. Lubunga, REGIDESO : Undoubtedly, they were hard years because of the repeated civil wars. The first one, started in 1996 and finished by the ousting of Mobutu's collapsing regime in 1997 and Laurent D.Kabila came into power .

Straight away in 1988, a second war commenced and ended only in 2003. Throughout all these years, the country was split and the company as well. Presently, we are in a post-conflict period and we are trying to gather all elements in order to resume slowly all the management of the company.

Besides, It was only in 2004 that we could produce the first financial statement of the whole company after seven years of war. All these wars have significantly destroyed our facilities inside the country and we were just controling 55 centers out of 94. Presently, we need some investments to resume our activies all over the country.

Summit Comminications : You pubished the income for the year 2005 that is of 12 billions congolese francs (24 million US dollars). What are the basic elements to be restored in order to resume efficiently your activities ?

Prof. Lubunga, REGIDESO: First, we rely on our staff that have developped a certain home-made mind. They succeeded in keeping our facilities in an acceptable operating condition, even during the war time that was peculiarly hard. Second, we are relying on foreign support from our backers who sufficiently trust in us and we intend executing different projects during this year. Mostly, these projects focus on restoring capacities in most big centers that escaped from the war. In terms of priority, we have to rehabilitate the existing facilities in order to assure a minimum operation or even the maximum. First, we have to get back former capacities and then we can develop and extend. That is why, we did not add other new centers to the current projects. They will be achieved roughly within 5 years.

Summit Communications : What are the current challenges to be faced by REGIDESO ?

Prof. Lubunga, REGIDESO : There have been very important moves of the populations towards urbanized areas. Let me get the example of Kinshasa, the population is estimated nowadays up to 6 million inhabitants while our network capacity of supplying is only 4 million Inhabitants. The people's concentration within urbanized areas represents indeed an important challenge for us. Therefore, millennium goals require supplying drinking water to 50% of people who don't have access to it by 2015. That is why, we do not want to open new centers because of this very important challenge. On the contrary, we would like first of all to focus on centers that we have already set up, that implies an increase of servicing rate which supposed to shift from 60% to 90%. Afterwards, we will move to other areas.

Summit Communications : What are urbanized areas in Congo in which you are concentrated to supply water ?

Prof. Lubunga, REGIDESO : Presently, for two reasons, we will begin in Kinshasa : first, because it is a crowded town and second, it will have multiplier impact: i.e. the invested money may be gotten back in order to be invested elsewhere. Apart from Kinshasa, we have chosen other similar towns in the West part such as : Lubumbashi, Mbuyimayi, and Boma. As the war is over, we have added other reunified towns of the East part; mainly the town of Kisangani that is afresh a big center. We are bound to start first of all by big towns likely to bring money. Then, that money will contribute to go remote places in country: Right away, we would like to privilege the marketing concerns rather than social ones because every thing should transpire in a specific time. Our strategy is "to supply a little water for everybody" : we cannot admit that some get access to water all the day long while others do not Currently, we wish to supply water for about 10 hours while others can get supplied for about 3 hours. That allows making water supply as we have reached the required supplying level. Yet, it is not longer the comfort but it is very important regarding sanitary and social standpoint.

Summit Communications : The situation seems to be paradoxal knowing that Congo is one of the biggest water reserves in Africa……

Prof. Lubunga, REGIDESO : We do not have resource problems but investments and mentalities ones. Congolese estimate that water is God's work, therefore, it must be free of charge for everybody. But currently, they do not realize that drinking water is an industrialized product of which the processing requires machines, staff, accrued wages and strength to spend. We are bound to explain towards the population that REGIDESO does not sell out water but rather services that bring water towards houses or straigthfoward close to it, after making it drinkable.

Summit Communications: If you have to make a record of water heritage of DRC, how much you may rate its resources?

Prof. Lubunga, REGIDESO: If we can take Congo's map and draw lines in all over the rivers; I bet you that the entire surface will be covered by lines. In other areas of the country, you cannot trace a road without build up a bridge every 10 kilometers or even 5. In fact, we have a significant mass of soft water: Congo River only represents the second river in the world from its spring. It crosses twice the Equator. Notably, it offers an advantage of a regular delivery, because when it doesn't rain in the South part but it does in the North part and vice versa. I acknowledge that thanks to the Congo river, its affluent and all the lakes, we do not have problems with water supply in foremost villages which is not the case comparing to many African countries.

Summit Communications : What are your headlines for your cooperative and developing projects for a better resources operations ?

Prof. Lubunga, REGIDESO : We are involved in treating and supplying drinking water. Yet, being in water field, we attend conferences and in fact there are projects in exporting water but crude water. For instance, we export water to Libya. Nearly going towards North, Tchadians are making survey to bring water from Congo River in order to supply Tchadan Lake which is drying out. We have another project for Southern Africans in framework of SADC, Namibia and South Africa that almost are desert and don't have a lot of water. There are 3 big projects in connection with exploiting and exporting water resources. However, it takes a survey on environmental consequences and trying to avoid overthrowing ecology, generally speaking.

Summit Communications : Progressively, you develop within the REGIDESO a servicing corporate mentality. What are fields of your activities on which you need more cooperation ?

Prof. Lubunga, REGIDESO: Now, cooperation is truly necessary, a bit less in technical field but rather than in management and specifically in business management. For instance, up to now, we have never integrated the marketing aspect yet. As a state company, we find out that it is normal because we have got the monopoly in the sector. However, we must have a good relationship with our customers to sell suitably our product. Likewise, financial analysis aspects are few developed.

Summit Communications : You have launched a big collection campaign in order to oblige subscribers to pay regularly their water bills. How can you manage the strategy in terms of relationship with your consumers?

Prof. Lubunga, REGIDESO: That's where the faction is because our customers think that water consumption should be free of charge. We must admit that the populations are not wealthy. Subscribers compare the sum of the bill with the salary and come to complain, that is impossibile to pay their bills. Regarding it, it is not easy to convince them, we are bound to set up the amount comparing stationary costs : processing drinking water per cubic meter, importation of products from abroad, wage and electrical costs and so forth. Otherwise, our marketing policy of supplying water in credit makes subscribers' collection extremely hard. Actually, collection operation does not lack disadvantages. Each month, our agents are bound to collect from "house to house", that can cause conflict situations, even more favoritism situations towards friends or agents' close friends in question. In case the situation is decaying, we must sometimes hinder the process going on by constraining customer to pay his bill. Then, the task is not easy because we have to adopt a firm and severe behavior either to subscribers or our own agents ! We have to opt a prepaid System.

Summit Communications : Let's say even though it is hard practice, you have performed big projects and financial backers gave an outstanding confidence, because sector of water benefit of several assistance program. How do you intend doing your cooperation with different financial backers and international institutions?

Prof. Lubunga, REGIDESO : Everything runs smoothly for us. We are getting contacts at the multilateral level with the World Bank, European Union, African Development Bank. We are in the process of reestablishing a relationship with certain countries namely France, Germany and Belgium as well. We also expect restarting our relationship with other Asian countries because the president of the Republic has recently made an important trip towards these countries. We have a growing relationship but considering our needs, I can tell you that we are not satisfied yet. We have received a lot of promises but so far outstanding payments are delayed. Thanks to the World Bank, an energy program split over three years has been implemented, and REGIDESO considered as leaders has paid 50% of the amount. But other companies have just paid a mere 5%. The main financial backers are as follows : World Bank that should pay 80M USD dollars, European Union : 20 M USD, ABD 10 M USD. But many projects are still on paper.

Summit Communications : How much are your projects bill estimated ?

Prof. Lubunga, REGIDESO : Our projects bill is estimated of 620 M USD, and financial backers theoretically have already agreed to finance it. However, during the last meeting here in Kinshasa in September 2004, financial backers promised to hand a sum of 7 billion dollars to DRC. But possibly, we don't really know when the first payment will be done, probably after the elections.

Summit Communications : DRC is on the way to becoming again one of the main components in Africa. According to your opinion, what will be its place in the next 5 years?

Prof, Lubunga, REGIDESO: I think even though we remain the leading company, we will be unable to keep our legitimate place, regarding our human potential as well as our material one. At least, we will come out of a crisis condition. During the 80's, we were not requesting assistance but rather loans that we were able to pay back. Now, we are to rely on assistance before restarting accordingly.

Summit Communications : What is the image you wish to outline to the American readers when we are talking about the DRC?

Prof. Lubunga, REGIDESO : In the Bible the prophet Ezechiel got a vision about dried bones on the battlefield beginning to take flesh. That is the view that I have for my country; once burnt with fire but now we are trying to raise up from the ashes. It is a new country with lots of potential, mainly in its population, not mentioning its soil and subsoil richness which are legendary. Thus, the Democratic Republic of Congo has a glorious future.